Guest Post: Ginkgotree Tackles Coursepacks, Cost and Copyright

Today’s guest post is by Jennifer Funk, a former teacher who couldn’t leave the classroom behind when she became a freelance writer. Now, she writes about education news, trends and best practices and supports innovative edtech companies that improve the lives of teachers and learners. She tweets about education and more at @jennfunk.

Scott Hasbrouck and his wife Lidi were several months into bootstrapping their course materials solution for fed-up and weary professors when, quite literally, they stumbled upon a name for it while at their local farmer’s market: Ginkgotree.

It seemed fitting for a company the Hasbroucks had grown from the seed of an idea nearly a year earlier when Scott started building an iPad e-book app for authors while pursuing his doctorate in physical chemistry. Over time the app turned into a platform for small publishers and then into Ginkgotree, the free platform for professors to create, edit and share coursepacks. It launched publicly last week.

“I saw a huge pain point in academic publishing, and wanted to solve it,” says Hasbrouck, who talked to publishers, professors and instructional designers for advice on what to include in the platform. “[Professors] wanted custom materials, organization and integration, increased connection to their students, and a ‘cool’ technology.” 

And that wasn’t all they wanted. Hasbrouck knew Ginkgotree would need to address licensing, one of the most complicated and time-consuming aspects of coursepack creation.

So, he designed a way for professors to license written content from within the Ginkgotree database. All they have to do is add a book or document, select a specific page range within the material, and either send the material to Ginkgotree for scanning or import their own digital copy. Ginkgotree takes care of the rest by ordering licenses through the Copyright Clearance Center.

“Professors no longer have to circumvent copyright laws to get all sorts of valuable content in front of their students,” Hasbrouck says. “They also don’t have to spend hours copying materials to hand to their university’s library department, not knowing what the final cost to their students will be.”

According to Hasbrouck, students benefit from Ginkgotree as much as professors. In addition to a lower cost — no more than 20 cents per copyrighted page plus a $10 monthly fee, as opposed to $100-200 for a standard textbook — they’ll also find Ginkgotree coursepacks more engaging.

“Coursepacks on Ginkgotree are resource havens — a place to incorporate any type of media,” he says. “Ginkgotree is so much larger than a simple textbook replacement — we want it to reform the way we’re educated.”

Once compiled, professors share their custom digital coursepacks with students via a private link.

For a full run-down of Ginkgotree’s current features, watch the video below.

Ginkgotree Tour from Ginkgotree on Vimeo.

This isn’t Hasbrouck’s first digital venture. As the developer of the PaperDesk iPad app, he learned a thing or two about building a minimum viable product and the importance of adding features based on user feedback. So, in the coming year, as the user base grows, Ginkgotree will become even more robust.

Hasbrouck expects new features to include, among other things, a grade book, student interaction analytics, public note taking, the ability to import interactive media, and to create and distribute assignments, quizzes and tests that are automatically graded and entered into the grade book.

The key will be to get professors with “years worth of pent-up skepticism” to try their solution and offer feedback. Though Hasbrouck says initial feedback from early adopters has been positive, they’ve met some resistance from individual professors they’ve pitched, who are more likely to use something recommended by trusted sources.

But Hasbrouck is not deterred, especially when he hears from current users who share their “horror stories” of standing for hours at photo copiers to compile “not exactly legal” coursepacks for their students. “Many professors mention how excited they are to finally stop violating copyright, and many love the idea of only requiring students to buy what they absolutely need,” he says.

And as far as getting trusted endorsements goes, in addition to users recommending Ginkgotree to their colleagues, press from The AtlanticInside Higher EducationGetting Smart and Microsoft BizSpark hasn’t hurt.

To Hasbrouck and the rest of the Ginkgotree four-person team, their platform is more than a way to create coursepacks; it’s also an answer to some burdensome problems in higher education: cost, excess, lack of customization and innovation.

Hasbrouck says, “We hope faculty, administrators, and students see Ginkgotree as more than just a  platform, and instead as a revolution.”

Like this blog post? To see a previous story by Jennifer about interactive textbooks, click here. You can also check out her post on Brainworth here or here her thoughts on Meritful here.